Masks: Two Better Than One?

Experts say that people should start wearing two masks

Tyler Leach, Staff Reporter

Despite the COVID-19 vaccine starting to become more widespread, the pandemic is still going on. Since it began, people have started to get used to having to wear masks both indoors and outdoors, however, earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out a new recommendation for preventing the spread of COVID: wearing two face masks. This is especially important due to the recent studies that have been causing people to talk about new, possibly even more contagious variants of COVID-19 starting to show up. Adding extra protection like double-masking could be the answer.

Some people, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, endorse wearing two face masks, saying “If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on it, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective.” Sometimes people don’t put their mask on correctly or just don’t wear a good face mask, so wearing two of them will increase the chances of preventing contamination. Experts have especially recommended this if you are just wearing a cloth mask. Cloth masks have since become the norm due to the shortage of N95 medical masks. While the CDC does say that wearing a cloth mask is better than no mask at all, if you are wearing things like single-layered masks or basic cotton masks, then it might be a good idea to wear two masks.

Since masks trap and block air droplets that can contain virus particles, the more layers, the better. As immunologist and microbiologist, Andrea Love explained, “The more physical barriers implemented, the more of these droplets you can block, thereby reducing the risk to yourself and others around you.” She also says that even if you wear a surgical mask, which usually has two layers by default, that it might still be beneficial to double up on them.”

One question about double-masking is when should you wear two or more masks? According to  Love, if you’re just walking outdoors and aren’t really close to people outside of your house or home, then a single mask should be just fine. However, if you plan to be close to other people outside of your home, whether it be outside, a party at a friend’s house or even a classroom, then wearing two masks is the recommended option.

Another case where double-masking would be appropriate is if you are already sick and have to attend a public event. There are times where you could feel sick and an event where several people are that you just can’t afford not to attend. In that case, you need to take have extra protection, double-masking is one of those extra steps.

While simply wearing one cloth mask on top of another could improve your protectiveness, different combinations could possibly help more. Studies have said that a very protective combo would be a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask. The surgical mask will act as the main filter while the cloth mask will give an additional layer of protection. “Does this offer extra protection? It probably depends on how well they fit to begin with,” said Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center. “The real limit is likely to be comfort. Can you breathe through the combo? Otherwise, you might not fit it closely enough to your face, and then it could be less protection than one good, well-fitting mask.” Make sure that you have a well-fitting mask, both for the sake of comfort and protection.

Some people might be worried that wearing two face masks might make it harder for them to breathe. But according to experts like Andrea Love, that is not the case. “The size of an oxygen molecule is orders of magnitude smaller than the pore sizes of masks,” Love says, but the problem is, in her own words, “many people don’t realize the difference between discomfort and a true physiological effect.” While wearing two face masks might take some getting used to, especially if you are wearing them while exercising or doing some other athletic activity, and it may not be comfortable at first, it will help greatly in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Double-masking may increase your protection, but it won’t exponentially increase to the point where you can omit other safety measures. “You cannot become overly reliant on any one measure,” WHO infectious disease specialist Maria Van Kerkhove said during a media briefing. “It can’t just be testing alone, it can’t just be case identification alone, it can’t just be masks alone, it can’t just be physical distancing alone. All of these different interventions need to be used.” You should still social distance, follow proper precautions, get tested if you start showing signs, etc.

A recent study was done at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. They evaluated the effectiveness of 11 types of face coverings: one surgical mask, one face shield, and nine different materials for cloth face masks. The researchers on the study evaluated multiple factors like how effective the cloth masks were at filtering air droplets, how many of said droplets they prevented from spreading, and how many droplets the cloth masks kept the wearer from catching.

As said before, sometimes people wear their masks incorrectly, they might accidentally wear them inside-out or upside-down. By far the most common mistake is that people can end up wearings masks so that there are gaps. When wearing a mask, you should make sure that there are absolutely no gaps between the mask and your face. Double-masking can help as an extra step to limit any air “leaks.”

“Wearing two masks helps improve the filtration ability of the mask in both directions, so it helps protect you better and it helps protect others,” Lindsay Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, said in late January. It’s best if you already have a mask that meets the standard of spread prevention, adding the extra layer can help you add that little extra protection.

One thing you should remember before starting to double-mask is that you should make sure you have enough masks to go around. You really shouldn’t use the same mask twice without washing it, most people tend to keep enough masks with them so that they can go out often enough and be safe, but the question is raised if you have enough masks to double-mask each time. You should make sure to wash your masks regularly and have plenty of masks to spare.

Despite the vaccine starting to become more widely distributed, there is still a high risk of spreading COVID-19. People have been trying their hardest to prevent any kind of spread, but even then there’s still plenty of risks. So wearing two face masks might be the next step necessary to ensure the safety of others.